Wood figured prominently in the construction of the Surrey Memorial Hospital’s critical care tower, a 400,000 square foot project opened in 2014 at a cost of $325 million. Construction company EllisDon headed the consortium responsible for its construction. (Photo courtesy EllisDon)

Mayor lobbies for wood use in new Mills construction

Says wood would create warm, inviting atmosphere

As much wood as possible should be used in the construction of the new Mills Memorial Hospital, says Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc.

A member of the consultation committee set up to monitor construction and other plans connected to the project, Leclerc said wood in the public areas of the hospital, for instance, would create a warm and inviting atmosphere.

“I think we’d want to use as much wood as possible,” said Leclerc in also noting the role the natural resource has played in the economic foundation and development of the region.

“A lot of wood is used in construction projects elsewhere and I’d like to see the same here.”

“There might be some areas [in a hospital] where you would not want to use wood but otherwise, I’d like to see as much of it used as possible,” she said.

Leclerc’s been speaking with First Nations representatives on the Mills committee about wood use as well as planners with the Northern Health Authority which established the committee late last summer.

As the city’s representative on the committee, she’s joined by the Thornhill and rural Terrace directors of the Kitimat-Stikine regional district and others.

“This is going to be a state of the art project,” Leclerc said of the new Mills which was officially approved by the provincial government in early 2018 following an intensive local lobbying effort.

The mayor did caution that construction plans must fit the allotted budget which is in the $380 million range, noting that regional property taxpayers are contributing 30 per cent of the cost.

“We want to be mindful of the impact on the taxpayer,” she added.

Leclerc’s wood use lobbying efforts involve speaking with Wood Works! BC, the provincial arm of a national body financed by wood products manufacturers and others focused on increasing the use of the material in all areas of construction.

Through Leclerc, its municipal affairs and national sustainability manager, Peter Moonen, has already been speaking with Northern Health Authority project planners and intends to make more contact later this month.

“Our role is really to encourage [the use of wood], act as coaches, if you will,” said Moonen about the role of Wood Works! BC.

It connects project planners with architects and contractors and others who have extensively used wood so their expertise and experience can be passed along.

“What we do is try to increase the appropriate use of wood materials where it makes sense to do so,” said Moonen.

Building code provisions citing where wood material can be used have helped promote its use as have environmental benefits, socio-economic benefits of using a product grown in B.C. and the longevity wood can lend to a building.

As it is, wood has been figuring in other health care construction projects around the province, boosted by the provincial Wood Use Act of 2009 which calls for wood to be the primary building material on provincially-financed public sector construction projects.

“In a hospital operating room, we won’t advocate for the use of wood parquet floors, for instance, but there are many other areas in a hospital where wood can be used — administration offices, lobbies, etc.,” said Moonen.

He doesn’t encounter opposition to the use of wood as much as he does unfamiliarity with how it can be used.

“So we say how can we help. Who can we put you in touch with,” Moonen added.

When it comes to wood use in the north, Moonen noted that the material was used extensively in the BC Cancer Agency’s northern cancer treatment centre which was opened in Prince George in 2012.

The Northern Health Authority’s Eryn Collins said the extent of wood to be used in the new Mills is being determined by the ongoing business plan.

”So, while it is a little too early to say what it will ultimately look like, [wood] will be incorporated to every extent possible in the new Mills Memorial Hospital,” she said.

There are, however, challenges as to requirements to use non-combustible materials, infection control and other considerations,” Collins added.

The recently-completed hospital on Haida Gwaii did use wood but overall construction had to take into account seismic measures and moisture-related environmental conditions, she added.

“That said, the use of wood was optimized in the construction of the Haida Gwaii facility, and all areas where wood products could be made use of were considered. On the Haida Gwaii project, use of wood included examples such as millwork, corridor handrails and furniture, interior doors and specific interior elements such as feature walls and the vaulted ceiling in the long-term care lounge,” Collins said.

Along with promoting wood use, Leclerc is joining Thornhill regional district director Bruce Bidgood, a member of the Mills project committee, and Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross in calling for as much use of local labour as possible and structuring contracts so that local companies can bid.

“If local taxpayers are paying for some of the costs, then they should be involved,” said Leclerc.

The new Mills will have more than 70 beds, nearly double the current count of 42 beds, and expanded trauma and surgical services and be constructed between the current hospital and the Sande Overpass on land already owned by the Northern Health Authority.

Health authority planners are now wrapping up a business plan for the project which then needs to be approved by the provincial government before bids go out to select an overall contractor.

It’s unknown if the construction of the new Mills will require the removal of the regional Seven Sisters long term mental health facility of 20 beds which now sits between the current hospital and the Sande Overpass.

Health authority officials have so far declined to comment, saying the business plan is not yet completed.

Leclerc said the Seven Sisters facility may very well have to be relocated but declined further comment, saying it would not be appropriate to do so.

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